Jack Guez
Agence France Presse (AFP)
December 4, 2008 - 1:00am

Israeli police evicted settlers from a disputed house in Hebron on Thursday, carrying or shoving some of them out the door, and prompting clashes that left about 20 people hurt, witnesses and official media said.

After more than 100 officers moved into the house, including members of an elite squad, a young settler fired an automatic rifle into the air and a stun grenade could be heard exploding.

Furious settlers hurled rocks at nearby homes, and army radio said about 20 people were injured in the ensuing clashes.

About 200 people were inside the four-storey building when police moved in. Dozens of the settlers left immediately, and officers then carried or shoved the others out.

The eviction followed a November 16 Israeli High Court order for the Jewish residents to leave the house they claim they bought legally from a Palestinian who denies selling it.

The action came just hours after the failure of talks between Defence Minister Ehud Barak and settler representatives aimed at defusing a violent standoff.

Following the talks, Barak warned that the settlers, who have hurled rocks at Palestinians and security forces in recent days, would be removed from the house one way or another.

"This group of extremists will learn the easy or the hard way to respect the law and the state," Ehud Barak said.

"The lawlessness in Hebron will end," he told reporters shortly after holding talks with officials of the Yesha council, the national settlers association.

The council had asked for more time to examine the legal situation, but Barak insisted the house would have to be evacuated first. The settlers inside the building rejected Yesha's authority and had insisted they would resist any attempt to remove them.

Hundreds of security forces already were deployed in Hebron on Wednesday as the area around the house was declared a closed military zone.

Young settlers had already attacked Palestinian homes, torched a car, slashed the tires of police vehicles and desecrated a mosque and a Muslim cemetery.

The violence, and the fact security forces had failed to prevent hundreds of far right-wing Israelis from joining the settlers drew harsh criticism from the media.

The Haaretz daily said on Thursday that settlers in Hebron and elsewhere in the West Bank "have engaged in unruly behaviour whose only goal is to violently threaten the Palestinians while undermining Israel's sovereignty.

"By any official standard recognised worldwide, this is terrorism," the newspaper said.

Home to the Tomb of the Patriarchs, holy both to Jews and Muslims, Hebron has stood out as a flashpoint between Palestinians and Israel, which occupied the West Bank in 1967.

Settlers claim they have a God-given right to the biblical Land of Israel, and insist they have lawfully bought the Hebron house from a Palestinian, who denies having sold it.


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